Legalizing recreational cannabis linked to increased alcohol consumption

PITTSBURGH — Does hitting a bong lead to picking up the bottle? Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh report U.S. states that recently legalized recreational cannabis experienced a slight yet notable increase in alcohol use. Importantly, study authors add this pattern was largely driven by young adults and men.

In light of these findings, the research team believes states that legalize recreational marijuana moving forward should invest in targeted public health messaging espousing the dangers associated with alcohol, as well as additional policy interventions aimed at mitigating problem drinking.

“Recreational cannabis laws have made cannabis legally accessible to nearly half of U.S. adults, but it has been unclear how this affects the use of other substances, such as alcohol,” says senior study author Coleman Drake, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Pitt Public Health, in a university release. “It appears that cannabis use increases the probability that people drink, at least in the three years after legalization.”

Who is drinking more in states where cannabis is legal?

This project used data on alcohol usage pertaining to over 4.2 million adults originally collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys administered between 2010 and 2019. During that time period, a total of 11 states legalized recreational cannabis.

The surveys asked respondents about their typical alcohol habits, as well as any binge drinking or heavy drinking within the last month. Study authors placed particular focus on response differences before and after local recreational cannabis legalization.

Any drinking, defined as consuming “at least one drink of any alcoholic beverage” over the prior month, increased by 1.2 percentage points over the first year following recreational cannabis legalization, but actually dropped during the next two years. The team did not note any changes in either binge or heavy drinking across the overall population.

When the research team analyzed all that data, they discovered these alcohol consumption increases center around adults between ages 18 and 24. This cohort displayed a 3.7 percentage point increase in drinking. Meanwhile, no other age groups showed a statistically significant increase in any level of drinking after marijuana became legal locally.

Demographically, this increase displayed a strong link to men, non-Hispanic whites, and people without any college education.

Marijuana use has skyrocketed in recent years

So, while recreational cannabis legalization had a link to a minor jump up in alcohol use, researchers note they did not find any evidence of a sustained effect on binge or heavy drinking. However, Prof. Drake does add that cannabis use in general has roughly doubled over the past decade. Additionally, a prior study estimates that excessive alcohol use resulted in the death of over 93,000 Americans annually between 2011 and 2015.

“So, it will be important to monitor whether recreational cannabis laws cause increases in drinking over longer periods of time, particularly among younger adults and men,” Drake explains.

By focusing specifically on groups that are more likely to engage in increased risky behaviors, like drinking more alcohol while using cannabis, U.S. states can take a proactive approach to mitigating potential health risks. Examples of actions states can take prior to recreational cannabis laws going into effect include public health campaigns or alcohol tax strategies, Prof. Drake says.

“In prior work, I found that recreational cannabis laws temporarily reduced opioid-related emergency department visits,” Prof. Drake concludes. “So, I would resist characterizations of cannabis legalization as categorically good or bad. We need to learn more about how cannabis legalization affects all substance use, health, and non-health outcomes, such as drug-related arrest rates, work-related injuries and labor market outcomes. Policymakers should try to think through all these costs and benefits as they consider passing recreational cannabis laws.”

The study is published in JAMA.

YouTube video

Follow on Google News

About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer


  1. Prohibitionists always use terms like “INVOLVED” , “RELATED” or “LINKED” when they tout these horrific sounding statistics and claims. Because they can’t ever prove cannabis consumption alone to be the actual “CAUSE” of anything seriously detrimental.

    There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize cannabis nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis.

    The prohibitionist view on cannabis is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda.

    Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society.

    Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of cannabis prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists left shrinks on a daily basis.

    With their credibility shattered, and their not so hidden agendas visible to a much wiser public, what’s left for a cannabis prohibitionist to do?

    Maybe, just come to terms with the fact that Cannabis Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think, and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide!…and Support All Cannabis Legalization Efforts!

    1. Contrary to what prohibitionists are so desperately trying to get the public to believe wholeheartedly and without question, legalizing cannabis IS NOT adding anything new into our society that wasn’t always there and widely available already.

      Therefore cannabis legalization does not lead to some massive influx of new cannabis consumers. The very same people who have been consuming cannabis during it’s prohibition are for the most part the very same ones who will be consuming cannabis when it’s legal.

      The prohibition of cannabis has never prevented cannabis’s widespread availability nor anyone from consuming cannabis that truly desires to do so.

      Cannabis has been ingrained within our society since the days of our founding fathers and part of human culture since biblical times, for thousands of years.

      So, since cannabis has always been with us and humans already have thousands upon thousands of years worth of experience with cannabis, what great calamities and “Doomsday Scenarios” do prohibitionists really think will happen now due to current legalization efforts that have never ever happened before in all human history?

      Legalize Nationwide!

      1. Fear of Cannabis Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Cannabis Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

        Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of cannabis legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

        The prohibition of cannabis has not decreased the supply nor the demand for cannabis at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

        If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more death and destruction than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

        Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize cannabis when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more destruction, violence, and death than all other drugs, COMBINED?

        Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Cannabis Laws.

  2. Studies have shown mixed results when it comes to the relationship between legalizing recreational cannabis and alcohol consumption. Some studies suggest that legalizing cannabis leads to a reduction in alcohol consumption, while others suggest the opposite.

    One study, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University, found that legalizing recreational cannabis was associated with an increase in alcohol consumption. The study analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) from 2011 to 2018 and found that states that legalized recreational cannabis saw a 12.4% increase in alcohol consumption compared to states where cannabis remained illegal.

    However, it’s important to note that this study only found an association between legalizing recreational cannabis and increased alcohol consumption, and cannot establish a causal relationship. Additionally, the study did not account for other factors that could influence alcohol consumption, such as changes in economic conditions, demographics, or cultural attitudes towards alcohol.

    Other studies have found different results. For example, a study published in the journal Addiction found that states with medical cannabis laws had lower rates of binge drinking and overall alcohol consumption compared to states without medical cannabis laws.

    In summary, while some studies have suggested a link between legalizing recreational cannabis and increased alcohol consumption, the relationship between the two is complex and may depend on a variety of factors. More research is needed to fully understand the relationship between cannabis legalization and alcohol consumption.

Comments are closed.